Courtney Barnett’s music is defined by its mix of the ballsy and the heartfelt. After all, it takes a singer with a lot of gumption to use a lead single to prepare fans for a letdown, as Barnett does on Pedestrian At Best, singing: “put me on a pedestal and I will only disappoint you.” It’s a typically down to earth, typically brave move. But it’s a lie too, or at the very least, some very misplaced self-depreciation. Not a single note of Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit disappoints; not a single lyric feels out of place.
However, it’s safe to say Barnett has been put on a pedestal: only recently the singer appeared on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show, alongside first lady Michelle Obama, no less. And although some may have their shears out, ready to cut down this tall poppy – or “small poppy”, as Barnett herself may have it: it’s the title of one of Sometimes’ stand out tracks – there is nothing on the album to imply fame has ruined Courtney Barnett. Indeed, her increased exposure seems only to have made her more self-assured, rather than self-indulgent.
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit takes its title from an A.A. Milne quote, and it’s not hard to see the influence of the wryly sincere author on the record. Barnett revels in paradoxes in a way that feels deeply human; like Milne she enjoys mining the territory of epic mundanity. Her songs take inspiration from deceased estates (on the touching, eerie Depreston) and the depression one feels when they’re being put down for being depressed (on the surprisingly jaunty Debbie Downer.)
Barnett peerlessly elevates the everyday, and although references to Australia abound (a vegemite reference on Elevator Operator; a great barrier reef reference on Kim’s Caravan) this is a relentlessly accessible record. It’s not hard to see the influence of songwriter Tom Morgan of Smudge and his peer Evan Dando of the Lemonheads (who Barnett has performed with) on Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit: all three artists are concerned with everyday pains and joys most other musicians would ignore in favor of more obviously ‘poetic’ themes.
Barnett’s live shows in the past have been justly compared to the performances of Nirvana (a compliment indeed), and indeed Sometimes has a grungy rock feel, most apparent on the brilliant slow burn of Small Poppies; and the crashing, upbeat strains of Dead Fox. But even though it is easy to see the influence of Cobain et al, one should be careful not to make too much of the connection. Like the greatest of artists, Barnett’s reference points are clear, but her sound is ultimately and distinctly her own.
Although I’ve loved a lot of records during my time writing for this site, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is the first record I feel deserves to be called a classic. It is not hard to imagine Barnett and her peers being interviewed in thirty odd years about this defining record. It’s simultaneously one for the ages, and yet defiantly, deeply grounded in the now: a paradox I feel Barnett might quite appreciate.